WALTON COUNTY, GA (Oct. 5, 2022) – The Walton County Board of Commissioners was greeted by a sea of red on Tuesday when animal advocates turned out en masse to address the BOC on the Walton County Animal Shelter and the county’s animal ordinances.
At the outset, BOC Chairman David Thompson said Walton County Animal Control director Shawn Morris is currently working with law professor Lisa Milot from the University of Georgia and the county attorney on a revision to the animal control ordinance and are addressing violations of the current ordinance. But that did not placate the speakers who said they had been petitioning the county year-after-year without any changes to the ordinance ever materializing.
One by one animal advocates addressed the BOC, some emotional, some angry, but most said they were willing to help and wanted to be a part of the solution.
Brittany Buckley from Clark County spoke on the negative economic impact and practical reality of not regulating dog breeding and welfare in Walton County. She highlighted the current economic situation with the high cost of living and how it is impacting shelters around the country with higher surrenders and strains on shelters.
An emotional Melissa Bowden spoke about dogs that have had to be saved by citizens because they are being left with owners who abuse them and keep them chained with inadequate shelter, food and water. She said that despite animal control going out to a residence 20 times and prosecuting a dog owner, someone eventually had to go out and pay $100 to get the dog. She herself had done the same thing to rescue a dog.
“Why are your citizens having to pay for these dogs when we already pay taxes,” she said.
Sally Mansour with End the Cycle reminded commissioners that they had addressed the BOC in 2014, 2018 and 2019 in efforts to draw attention to some instances of animal abuse, including backyard breeding, dogfighting and dogs kept chained without adequate shelter, food or water. Dogs had died at the end of chains. Attempts to change the tethering laws also had been unsuccessful.
“Hall, Barrow and Forsythe all passed no tethering in one meeting, one meeting,” she said.
Mansour also shared how Barrow County, with a budget almost the same as Walton’s, was able to help adopters with funding for the necessary vaccines, providing spay and neuter services among other benefits and sent them home with 14 pages of information on how to care for their new pet. She said if Walton County was able to offer similar services it would have a positive impact on outcomes and be a benefit not just to the animals but also to the shelter.
There were some angry exchanges, ending with deputies stepping up to help usher out the attendees at the end of the public comment in order to begin the regular meeting.
A recurring theme from the speakers had been frustration with not being able to volunteer at the shelter. After the meeting, Thompson said he believes it is a legal issue because of the fact that the inmates from the jail clean the shelter.
“We can’t have the general public in there when the inmates are there,” Thompson said. He also addressed the issue that had been raised by a couple of the speakers that he had run on addressing the problems at the shelter but had not done anything about it after he was elected.
“They are right, I did say that, but I couldn’t do anything because I only had two commissioners that supported it,” Thompson said.
One of those commissioners had been Commissioner Jeremy Adams, who asked at the closing of the meeting that a work session be held with Animal Control and a vote be taken.
“We had a lot of passionate people here earlier tonight in support of animal rights and you know, some speaking in support of our animal control department,” Adams said, going on to propose that the board have a work session and vote next month on changes to the tethering laws and cage sizes.
“Things have changed in this county now. We’re over 100,000 and we’ve hired a fire marshal. I think we need to take a stand like some of the other counties around here and make some changes for animals in Walton County,” Adams said.
Thompson asked him to get with the county manager and make arrangements for the meeting to be held. Sally Newman with End the Cycle thanked Adams on social media and asked that they be given the opportunity to meet with commissioners before the vote to give some facts and solutions.
“Please contact me about this. We are here to help, Walton can be a great place for all living beings if we work together,” she wrote.